Boeing (NYSE:BA) has reached a settlement with the Department of Justice to resolve a criminal investigation into the development of its 737 MAX, with the aerospace giant agreeing to pay $2.5 billion in fines and compensation and admitting wrongdoing.
The company said late Tuesday it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, ending a two-year criminal investigation into Boeing following a pair of 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people. Boeing’s reputation has taken a hit as information has come to light about the development of the 737 MAX.
The settlement includes a $243 million fine and $2.2 billion in compensation to airline customers and families of those who were killed in the two crashes. The Justice Department has agreed to dismiss the charges against Boeing after three years if the company fully cooperates with the government, including making current and former executives and employees available to testify in future federal trials.
The headline payout number is huge, but investors are likely to look favorably on this settlement. Boeing won recertification for the 737 MAX late last year, and the company is in the process of trying to normalize operations. It has already paid or reserved $1.77 billion for payments to its airline customers, meaning Boeing will only take a charge of $744 million in the recently completed fourth quarter.
The company still faces significant headwinds. It is trying to work through an inventory of more than 400 737 MAX planes manufactured but not delivered during the grounding at a time when airlines are struggling due to the pandemic. Boeing borrowed $25 billion in 2020 to put to rest any talk of liquidity issues, but the company’s net debt is now four times higher than it was before the grounding.
It is considering selling shares to pay down its debt, and is dealing with issues with other airplanes in its portfolio.